When your little ones start having regular sleeps, you
may long to read something other than picture books, and
(gasp!) you may actually have time to devote to some recreational
reading. Better yet, why not combine your love of reading with your
need for some me-time, and start a book club for yourself and your
like-minded friends? Aggie White explains how.
Starting a book club is a fantastic way for friends to connect and give the ol' brain a good workout - without a math problem or game show host in sight. You probably know at least a few people who like to read, and a great way to make new friends, and strengthen connections between existing friendships, is to start a book club. So how do you get started? The obvious first step is to recruit members; but there are a few things to consider first.
How many people do you want?
If you hope to meet in someone's living room, you don't want to have too many people. Then again, you don't want it to be too small, or you may find yourself hosting you, yourself and I next time that nasty cold does the rounds!
How often do you want to meet, and how many books do you want to discuss?
Generally, meeting once a month and reading one book a month works well. We'd all like to read more, but realistically, can you commit to more than one book? A word from personal experience - there is nothing more likely to suck the fun out of a book club than finding yourself in a panic the night before because you haven't read the book. It's like time-warping back to 5th form, and cramming the night before a big exam.
How will you choose your books?
This is probably the most important question of all. I think everyone putting a book forward and then choosing as a democratic group is the best way to go. It's worth setting aside a quick coffee catch-up or an extra meeting once every three months to select books for the future. That way you don't waste too much of your meeting and discussion time arguing about what you want to read next. Another benefit of choosing books a couple of months ahead is that you may be able to make use of those book club offers that you see in magazines. They really are quite helpful!
What kind of book to choose?
This, too, can be tricky, but it is worth nutting out guidelines right at the start. A lot of clubs will restrict themselves to just fiction and memoirs/biographies; some will instigate a length limit (e.g. under 400 pages); some will use an age limit (e.g. only books from the last 12 months; only books from the last three years?) Will you do classics? If so, how often - maybe once every
third month? Will you do non-fiction? What about translations of foreign novels? There's a lot to think about.
How do we discuss the book?
You may as well ask how long is the "12 or less" queue at the supermarket. It really does vary. Some book clubs will use the same set of questions for every book; others prefer to let the discussions grow organically from each member's statement of whether they enjoyed the book or not.
There are no hard-and-fast rules, though I think letting the discussion grow naturally is good at the start when you're still tweaking your book choices.
I think that a book club should be about having fun - enjoying what you read and then talking about it with other people. You really want to make sure that it doesn't feel like homework, and remember that there aren't any right or wrong answers.
Perhaps creating a set of questions is something to look at further down the track, when everybody is a little more familiar and at ease with each other. This can be very helpful if you find your open discussion continually veers off course like your shopping trolley; or grinds to a halt like a three-year-old after a birthday party.
Where do we get our books from?
Anywhere you can! A lot of bookstores have book club programmes where a registered book club may get a discount (often 10%) off that month's chosen book. They are usually great at ordering them in so you don't find yourselves short of books if the book you choose turns out to be super-popular!
If your group doesn't want to be restricted to buying their books from just one shop, remind people about the various customer loyalty programmes available at many stores/chains. Some will let you earn bonus points with every purchase, which you get to spend in store at a later date. Others do a "buy 10 get 1 free" card.
Nearly every bookstore will have a designated book buyer. Make a point of asking to meet this person and finding out what days/hours he or she works. Chances are they will be true book lovers and happy to make recommendations for the group. Some bookstores even have displays just for book groups!
How do I choose what book I think we should read?
Reading, like anything, is a matter of personal taste. Once you have your book group's selection rules in place, the easiest thing to do is ask "What books have I enjoyed in the past?" Maybe that author has a new book out. Maybe you've found a topic you'd like to revisit, or maybe it's a genre you find yourself returning to time and time again.
Knowing what you have liked in the past is a big help to people who are making recommendations for you. Next time you're stuck in a bookstore, not sure what to get, look for a staff member (find one who's not lugging great stacks of books or in the middle of serving - they'll appreciate that) and ask them, "If I liked this... What would you recommend for me?" Take a pen and paper and write down their suggestions.
If you have time, grab a book and read the first few pages. Try to ignore the cover. Some book covers perfectly capture the book, and others are nothing like it, so if you've heard good things about a book and the topic sounds appealing, rely on what you read in those first five pages, not the picture on the front!
Do some research. Check out the top 10 this week at the local bookstore or library; look at a book you like online at Amazon.com and check out the "If you liked this, you'll love" selection; read the book review pages in magazines and newspapers; find out when book shows are on TV or the radio; ask people!
What are classic books?
A lot of bookstores have a "classics" section. This doesn't necessarily mean the books are old, but they are usually famous and much-praised. Here is where you will find books from the likes of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Brontës and Shakespeare. Don't forget the so-called "modern classics" (again, modern could refer to anything written after 1900 to now). If in doubt, ask.
Now you're ready to go! Invite some friends, make everyone a cuppa, and get reading.
Aggie White is a hardcore book lover who works in publishing and has belonged to 12 book clubs over the past decade. She is always reading, even while driving, which she admits is not necessarily good for one's eyes.